Published on February 21st, 2012 | by Paz9
First trip to China. Our arrival from HELL
We celebrated our one year in China a few days ago and I think I am now ready to talk about our first trip to China, and the first 72 hours. I haven’t written about this before for many reasons. At first I didn’t want to hear the “I told you this was a bad idea.”, we were still too tramatized and then of course the reality that all of our planning and mapping things out had failed. Our months of preparation had completely and utterly failed us. That was embarrassing, especially since that was our safety net. We had planned everything out, so how could anything go wrong? Oh boy we were so wrong!! Now one year later you get the whole story.
Back-ground to the story: We had done our research online about cities and schools, talked to references, spoke with other expats, and Google’d the hell out of every single option we had. We finally narrowed it down to 3 main offers. We created a spreadsheet with the cons and pros to each offer including money, accommodation, days off, ect. the works. We invited friends over and opened a bottle of wine and ordered some pizza. We discussed all three options for a couple hours and debated the pros and cons. It was lots of fun and good to get another perspective. We ended up choosing a school in Guangzhou who I had talked to many times and exchanged many e-mails and had about 4 Skype video calls. Great! I had talked with other teachers who had worked there and teachers who were currently working there. Everyone said it was a legit place to work and gave us the thumbs up.
What could go wrong? Well EVERYTHING!!!
We arrived in Hong Kong to find Zeek’s work laptop stolen. Yup gone!! The rude counter in Chicago had made us check it in a special location for electronics. We should have asked to spoken to a manager! We believe it was stolen in Chicago at the special electronic check in….duh! Special for it won’t arrive special. We had just been traveling for almost 24 hours with 2 small children to then spend one hour in Hong Kong filing a stolen laptop report.
My new boss is waiting for us when we exit and he sees us in all our tiredness and we have to get the kids settled, fed, and clean up a bit. I mean seriously! We then begin our departure from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. He had suggested we fly into Hong Kong since we were flying in on one-way tickets. (bad advice#1) We then go and get on a bus. This might sound like a simple task however remember we have in tow 2 small children, 6 large suitcases, 4 carry-on, 2 strollers, 2 mother-in laws (they came with us and were a great help the entire time. :)) so doing anything is just short of a miracle. Okay we get on the bus! Sit for 20 minutes and wait we need to get on the metro!
What a metro with all of this and all of us?! My mom is about to punch this guy and I am fighting back my own frustration while trying to keep an optimistic mind. This guy is my boss. I can’t lose my head in the first 24 hours. To get on the metro you have to go up 2 flights of stairs, then down 1 flight of stairs and then lets get on the metro. Are you guys will me and remember we have all of our stuff.
Okay we barely make it on the metro. We are on and then we find out we need to get off and go through immigration. We were nervous because we were entering China on a tourist visa (we didn’t get our work visa in the U.S.) and only had purchased one-way tickets. Would they question us? We didn’t know. Of course this is about a .5 mile walk from the metro. We lug all of our stuff from the metro to immigration. We passed in (LoWu) and our 3.5 yr old starts throwing a temper tantrum of extreme magnitude. She is screaming bloody murder that she doesn’t want to go to China and she wants to go home. Perfect timing! She is pushing and shoving us screaming. This isn’t her normal behavior at all. She has gone almost 28 hours without sleep and is hungry and tired. I might have done the same if I had that energy.
We push both kids, 8 bags, 3 carry ons, 2 strollers, and 2 mother-in laws through immigration. No questions nothing. Okay now I guess we have to hop on a train to Guangzhou. Seriously???? Can I cry now? Everyone is tired, hungry, confused and upset! We get to where we need to buy tickets and it is a crazy place. It is the cheap train, which in China means no convienences what so ever! So we push everything through security and then through the barricades and find stairs. Yup! So down one flight of stairs with everything. I don’t need to remind you. Then my future ex-boss says hurry they are loading the train. What!! Hurry?!! We don’t hurry….we have so much stuff and so many people even if we wanted to hurry we can’t. Okay down an escalator….
I get my suitcase and grab Lupita, she doesn’t budge. She doesn’t want to move. huh? I start moving with the luggage and she is holding her place. I start moving and she DOESN’T!!! I am now screaming for her to get on and as you suspect she still does nothing. I am now debating between leaving the luggage which will fall and crush everyone below me on the escalator and start running up the escalator to get Lupita. Luckily a nice woman noticed and helped Lupita on the escalator and she went with her! A helping hand from above. We then get down to the platform to only find that we need to go up another set of escalators. Ugh!!! My mom is running with a stroller and a bag and about to go up a ramp as she feel like she just twisted her knee!! She starts swearing. At this point we were all swearing.
We finally get on this train. I sit down and grab Lupita and we hug and I cry a bit. I am so happy we didn’t lose her and that she got on the escalator. What would we have done? All the scary thoughts a parent should never think about start going through my head.
We ride this train for about 45 minutes. We are now about in hour 30 of traveling maybe 34…I honestly lose count. We arrive at the Guangzhou East Railway station FINALLY!!! (There is a much easier and more pleasant way from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and not expensive.) There is a van waiting for us. We barely fit in the van with all of our luggage and people. We squish in to be taken to our new apartment. I am starting to feel relieved at this point. We are now in China and taking in all it’s amazing-ness and trying to enjoy the view.
We arrive at the building and go inside. It is okay from the outside and we don’t really notice much. Earlier in my conversations with my soon to be ex-boss we discuss the apartment quite a bit. He says he has a very nice 3 bedroom for us since we have a family and it will have plenty of space and blah blah blah blah! We walk in and it is disgusting. There are couches that are black…not their original color. There is a glass coffee table that is broken in half and duck tape around the broken side. The refrigerator is suppose to be yellow…hmmm more like poop yellow. Okay let’s see the bedrooms. Yes, the apartment is big and there are three bedrooms that is true. However they are in similar shape. The furniture is all broken with nails sticking out and stains of God only knows what.
We find the kitchen to be utterly disgusting. It had broken tiles everywhere, rust on everything, and layers of oil and grease on everything. The bathroom was the same! It had broken tiles and a leaking pipe that was spraying water all over the bathroom. There was no shower and the toilet was there however it was broken as well. My amazing husband saw everything and says “We can make this work” he starts talking about how he can fix this and do that, he begins picking up the broken pieces and moving them around so that we might be able to let our kids out of their strollers to “enjoy” there new home. I then freak out and lose it!! No!!! NO!!! NOOOOO!!! We did not leave our wonderful home in the US to come to this. We did not leave a home we own with home improvement projects to come and do home improvement projects on a house we don’t own in China! I sit down on the filthy sofa and cry!!!
My mom and mother-in-law come back from just checking in at the Holiday Inn. I am happy they didn’t say anything, they just asked if we were okay. I am sure they could tell the look of utter disappointment and distress we had on our faces. We felt as if had been beaten down by the world. We had prayed for doors to open for this adventure to happen and all of them had. Amazing and incredible things had occurred to allow us this opportunity to arrive to this??? I was dazed and confused to say the least.
We had gotten a blanket out of our suitcases and had laid Abraham and Lupita down on one of the germ infested couches. Then my soon to be ex-boss comes in and asks if we want to go to dinner. Our children had just fallen asleep and would we like to wake them to go and eat some food after traveling for now over 35 hours. “Are you on crack?” Is what I wanted to say, but I didn’t. I said no repeadetly and as he kept insisting I kept getting angrier and angrier. “Are you stupid?” should have been my next words. Instead I started bringing up the state of the apartment. Before this I had felt too exhausted to argue or do anything. But his utter annoyance re-charged me for another round. Thank goodness.
How did he think this was appropriate? He knew we had children, he knew we wanted something nice. If he couldn’t have delivered he should have just said so. Why wait until we get here. I would have taken the job and just taken the housing allowance and not this shit hole. My mother offers up the Holiday Inn! Yup! We are leaving. He is a little surprised, but we ask that he calls back the van. I think maybe we should leave some of the luggage there and come back the next day. Zeek disagrees, I think he also got another energy burst and if I get the kids down he can take all 4 pieces of luggage and 3 carry-ons. (Our mothers had taken their luggage to their hotel already.)
We move the kids again. We then arrive at the Holiday Inn and the bell boy comes out and they take the luggage. Zeek might have kissed him at this point, but he held back. I have to provide our passports and then we go to a beautiful, clean, comfortable room. The bed was luxurious and more comfortable than our bed in the U.S., so you can imagine we are very happy. The moms take the kids and go in their room and Zeek and I get to sleep by ourselves. We each used one of the beds. No sharing anything tonight! Tomorrow they were going to show us a different apartment and I was to show up to the office to fill out paper work and go over my contract.
I go there the next day. Yup I went. I wanted to see the school, meet some teachers, and you know get started.
Arrive at the school
I arrive at the school to find a few Chinese people working there and nothing is very impressive. I am suppose to be meeting my boss to go over my contract, agreement, and of course this living situation. He is an hour late. In the meantime, this nice very young Chinese girl says she is my TA and what lesson would I like her to prepare. huh? huh? Lesson for what? The class I am suppose to teach tomorrow…..hmmm I am not teaching a class tomorrow and I am hear to discuss my contract. She won’t let up. So I sit down and flatter her and just get her to stop bugging me. She has no book, and didn’t think that since this is my first time here that I also don’t have a book. I don’t even know where the office is. As I explain this to her she tells me this is her 2nd day and she will go ask about the book. Oh geeze! I don’t think it is good that I have a TA that is on day 2 as I am entering day 0…but that is just me. She assures me that she will do exactly what I say and follow my every move. I am perplexed as to how that is actually going to help me??
When my boss shows up I try to corner him. He waves hello and goes on talking to other people. Hmmmm…I then interrupt and explain the situation. He says that I need to create a lesson plan and that my days have changed because the school changed them. Okay…not my problem. I still don’t have a contract. “We will get to that work with your TA.” I should have busted a cap in his ass. Instead I did as I was told. Twenty minutes later I explain my frustration again and he says, “Inexperienced teachers have these worries, maybe my skills are not up to par. I should do a demo class for him.” This not only enraged me, but drew me into his trick. I prepared the lesson and presented a demo class above average…of course and then he shut up!! At this point I am starting to boil. I then get in his face. This was probably the first time I have ever had to get in my boss’s face.
“What I had come to was not what we agreed upon. You have not honored any of your word other than you are Brian and I can tell you are the owner. You have not provided a suitable living situation, viable contract, or explained the extent of my working situation.” I was not going to go any further in his “process” until him and I got a chance to sit down and talk. He could find me at my hotel and we could discuss things there. I was not showing up for this suppose’d class tomorrow and he would have to find someone else. I was not working without a contract and not without sorting out my living situation first. DONE!!
He then started to take me serious. We went back and forth a few times about what I had “expected” and what was a reality. Bottom line, not suitable for anyone let alone a family!! He is a teacher, where would he put kids???? Right???
I leave and take a taxi back to the hotel. So happy to be away from that hmmm person and back with my kids and family.
Two hours later I get a phone call inviting us to dinner with the rest of the foreign teachers. Hmm we are intrigued and go. We meet some that have been there for years and some that were also starting as new teachers.
What were they like? Most of them were the backpacker type. Very laid back and probably enjoy camping a lot!!! I on the other hand really don’t enjoy camping and am not that laid back. The majority were men in their early twenties that might like sleeping under a tree chewing on some bark. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I have two small children and we don’t need much, but we do need clean and safe. Simple! They explain that they are asking one of the other teachers to move out and his place is much nicer. We can live there, but it will take a few days.
The next day we go and see the place. It honestly isn’t bad. It isn’t great, but 200% better than the first one. He has his stuff there and will take 2 days to move out. Okay we agree and I leave.
The next day this other teacher is sick and can’t move anything so it will be another day. Okay, fine. We are at the Holiday Inn another day. Not that bad, except our bill is starting to rack up. A bill we were not expecting and not happy about, but much happier than staying in that shit hole! Literally.
I get another call from them and every time I hear their voices my stomach turns. I feel like throwing up and punching something! After much discussion we decide that I can not sign a contract or have them proceed with my work visa. We want out! I made one phone call and it was done!
We were now homeless and jobless in China!
As you can guess we were scared. We didn’t know what to do. Should we stay? Should we go back to the U.S.? Should we go someplace else?
I had many offers prior to coming so I called all of the employers that I had declined and asked for the job I had just declined. Talk about pride swallowing. We had to start somewhere! They had filled the positions. Who knows if they did or not, but no space for me.
We debate a little longer and decide that Guangzhou is where we should stay since it is close to Hong Kong and if we have visa issues that is where we need to go. Okay so done! We stay in Guangzhou. Now we need a job and a house.
We ask the concierge at the Holiday Inn for a reference. We need a translator to take us apartment shopping. They have a guy “Frank” he will be there in 2 hours. We wait and go with Frank. During this time the moms are watching and playing with the kids. They leave for Shanghai in 4 days. We are running out of time until our daycare leaves.
Frank takes us to see probably about 20 apartments over the next 2.5 days. Not easy! We have no idea where we are and really don’t know what we are doing. All we know is that we are exhausted! As Zeek is about to lose his cool and start hurting people, because the whole process is taking way too long, the apartments are way too expensive or too dirty, we go to our last agent. They have one, we go and see it. PERFECT!! Almost as if the skies opened up to Zeek’s madness. But we need 3.5 months rent…hmmm now! The landlord is on her way and we can move in tomorrow. Just like that!
Our rent is roughly $634.00 every month. Yup so we need to hand over almost $2,000.00 in cash! Now! I don’t even know how to get that much out at 6 pm in Wisconsin. How am I going to do that in China!!!
I go to the cash machine and start pulling out cards. Our bank card has a $300.00 a day limit on it as do ALL of our cards!!! I only had one card that would let me pull out $1000.00, but the ATM doesn’t let you take that much out so it took almost 4 withdrawals on that one card! We ended up doing a cash advance on a couple CC to get the majority of the money…but we fell short. I had to wait 24 hours to take out more money. We pretended like everything was okay and waited until the landlord showed up. She was a very traditional Chinese woman and we explained our situation. She was fine. We explained that we would give her the money tomorrow. She understood.
About 2 hours later after all the documents were translated and money exchanged, papers stamped with a million red emblems we were able to go back to the hotel to share the good news with our moms. We were no longer homeless. Yay!
Now about that job. I had applied to a couple of places on line and had demo class interviews set up with two schools. One of the schools was in the same building as where we had just rented our house. Awesome!
Roughly 24 hours later I had an offer from them and I could pick my start date. The moms were almost on their way to Shanghai as everything fell into place. They went out and bought us our bedding and a crib for Abraham along with some cooking utensils. We rented a van and moved it all into our house almost 12 hours before their flight left. Whew!!
Here we are a year later in the same house using most of the same cooking utensils. In my year living here I have been offered probably 40 jobs without even looking. The market is great in China and we now know of many homes to rent.
Although it was a terrifying experience it taught us the most valuable lesson. That was that the world is really what we make it. We could have folded up and left and no one would have thought bad of us. However we had decided to live life and experience it. So that is what we did, even with the obstacles that laid before us.
We obviously can’t forget to thank the moms that journeyed with us and took such great care of the kids. One word of advice is to always book a hotel room…you never know when you might need it!!
What was your first trip to China like?